Why We Hold Grudges
A grudge is a story you tell yourself to crust your heart, says Dr. Lustin. In essence, it's temporary protection. By fixating on Jack at his worst, I stop myself from letting my guard down and possibly getting hurt again. "The problem," Dr. Lustin says, "is that grudges destroy marriage."
I see this happening before my eyes. My resentment stands between me and Jack like a big, angry monster. It keeps me from ever getting close to him. There is no real intimacy in our marriage. In the three years since our fight, we've had sex five times, strong evidence that our relationship is ailing.
I tell this to Dr. Lustin and he responds with a simple question: "Do you want to get divorced?" "No," I say. "Then why are you resisting so much?" he asks. "From my point of view, if the other person is willing to apologize, you either accept that or you leave."
This makes me pause. If I don't want to get divorced, then what do I want? Jack did apologize. Jack has never sworn me at or flipped me off again. Jack is trying. He takes our son fishing and to the park and on walks in the woods. He tells him that he is a sweet, sweet boy who we love so very much.
The trick, it seems, is releasing my toxic grudge but not forgetting what happened. "True forgiveness involves remembering your partner's wrong or slight and then recognizing that you deserve better treatment," says Dr. Fincham. This makes me think of my abusive ex, William. It took time (and one year of therapy) but, eventually, I forgave him. However, I've never forgotten what he said and did to me. This is why, when Jack echoed William's behavior, I took such offense. Oh no, I thought. I've been through this before and I will not go through it again. Remembering imparts knowledge—it keeps you from ending up in the same bad spot again and again. It keeps you safe. Anger Management In a Relationship
"There's a saying that marriage is the union of two forgivers," says Dr. Fincham, who then tells me something else I need to hear: forgiveness is a key factor in long-term successful marriages. "When you ask couples what contributes to the success of their marriage, forgiveness is always at the top of the list," he says. Research also shows that deeply committed couples have more motivation to forgive. You want to build your future together, not obliterate it. So in time, you forgive and you try again because you're in it for the long haul.
Suddenly, my bitterness seems futile. I'm committed to Jack. I'm committed to our marriage. How will we ever be a successful couple if I don't forgive him? I can't have it both ways.
Recently, Jack sent the following email to me:
Your anger and resentment is palpable. Maybe if you would talk to me about some of it, I could understand what the issues are other than the things that I do that displease you. We need to figure this out before it reaches some kind of terminal stage.
Next month, we start couple's therapy in hopes of repairing and reviving our marriage. In the meantime, I'm slowly finding my way toward forgiveness, and every day—bit by bit—I feel the crust around my heart beginning to soften.